I’m having A Christmas Carol moment in July as I ponder my past, present and future Independence Day celebrations. The settings for each are thousands of miles apart and could not be more different in climate, terrain, and, especially, regional accent. In fact, on 364 days of the year there is not much that Pecos, TX (pop 8,785) Mamaroneck, NY (29,156) and St. Simons Island, GA (13,381) have in common. Yet, on July 4th, they and every other small town and city in the US, share in spirited patriotism bringing families together for the highlight of summer.
As a kid growing up in Fort Worth, our family vacations were spent with grandparents who lived an eight-hour car ride away. Twice a year, my parents packed up the station wagon and we drove west for Christmas and the 4th of July. It was during the summer trip that the small town sprang to life. The Pecos Rodeo, a tradition dating back to 1883, is the very first rodeo in the US and the community proudly celebrates its heritage with authentic Texas flair.
During the late afternoon of the 4th, my grandfather would drive our family downtown and park in the Texaco filling station that he owned. My sister and I stood in the back of the red pickup truck and watched the bands and the twirlers strut along the dusty main street. What I loved the most, though, was watching the town saddle up as kids, dignitaries, women my mother’s age each sat tall and waved. I longed to be part of the parade. I wanted to change into my own western shirt and boots, and hop up on my own gorgeous horse. Instead, we waved back in the sweltering heat and impossibly bright light, hands shielding our eyes, pushing damp bangs across foreheads.
When my husband and I had our own children, we began to celebrate July 4th in the cool northern suburbs of New York City. I exchanged my rustic cowboy-clad traditions for a country club setting with barefooted kids dressed in smocking and madras. The adults balanced plates of burgers with G&Ts keeping an eye on their children in the jumping castle or at the petting zoo. Red and blue checked tablecloths were symmetrically spread out on the manicured fairway. Parents rounded up their kids, pulling out sweatshirts from canvas tote bags, and snuggled together for the fireworks.
During more recent years, our July 4th party shifted to a neighbor’s house. We feast on grilled chicken and steak, perfectly ripe corn and tomatoes. I would cry if my friend decided to pass on making blueberry crisp served warm with vanilla ice cream. With glasses of red wine in hand, we watch the fireworks on the back patio. Our kids, no longer little, invite a pack of their own friends over for the night. We know they are in the vicinity and happy that they are old enough to wander on their own.
During this upcoming holiday my family will be traveling to St. Simons Island for our first 4th of July celebration on the island we happily consider our second home. There will be no cowboys on horseback, no red pick up truck to stand on to watch. We will be there with our now-grown kids who are each bringing a few friends. We will go to the parade and pile our plates high at a cookout where I will search for deviled eggs to rival my mother's. My husband and I will settle down together on a blanket to watch the fireworks. As a mom with kids who have nearly grown and flown, I feel fortunate that their work schedule permits them to take a long weekend and that they want to join us (Thank you, SSI!)
So regardless of the venue of your holiday, put out your flag, place the watermelon on ice, and get ready for fireworks. Celebrating Independence Day with pride and gratitude is ingrained in our national culture. But it is also a family holiday with memories in the making.
Mary Dell Harrington is co-founder of Grown and Flown, a parenting blog that looks at parenting kids, 15-25. She is a homesick Texan living in New York who loves to take off for St. Simons Island whenever possible. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.